The numbers don’t lie. Both hiring and fatalities oil and gas industry are way up. Alarmingly, the percentage of fatalities is rising faster than the percentage of new hires. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the industry rose 23 percent from 2009 to 2012 but fatalities were up by about 100 percent, reaching a high of worker 138 deaths in 2012. See an article on the numbers here.
So what do we do about it? The first step is to drill down into the numbers. According to a very good article in Safety & Health Magazine (appropriately called Drilling Down), “motor vehicle crashes are the chief cause of death, followed by struck-by incidents involving a tool or equipment.” In fact, according to one government study of industry fatalities, nearly one-third of the deaths over a multi-year period involved vehicles. You might think that increase is related to the number of 18-wheelers, especially with so many involved in fracking. However, the largest category of trucks involved in fatalities are pickups, accounting for half the deaths. From there, it gets pretty murky. Were these company or private vehicles? Were they on the way to the jobsite or heading home? Knowing those details would help address the problem.
But there are some more immediate conclusions that are worth considering. The main one is, how are we addressing actual work-related hazards? Companies use a number of tools to address safety on the job site – orientations, JSAs, stop work, lockout/tagout, etc. But do those programs address driving hazards, which the statistics say is the most dangerous part of the job? Perhaps we need to focus more training and safety meetings on driving safety. Maybe we need to underscore that seatbelts are PPE, required whenever the vehicle is moving.
Above all, we need to determine whether there is a connection between the boom in employment the industry is experiencing and the even bigger boom in vehicles crashes. It could be a sign that:
- New and less experienced workers are at higher risk of crashes,
- Companies entering the market have less effective safety programs (the stats seem to show that small companies have higher vehicle fatality rates per 100,000 workers), or
- The expansion of drilling into new areas of the country has opened up a whole new range of concerns, including travel distances and fatigue.
One final thought on this topic – Could it be that a major causal factor is that companies and workers alike still think of “work” as only taking place on the worksite and we don’t focus on what happens before we get there and after we leave?